Category: Baptist

Congregational Church Governance

downloadWhat Is Congregational Church Governance?

Polity is how an organization, such as a church, functions—the policies that guide matters such as governance, decision making, structure and leadership. Baptists differ from most Christian denominations in matters of polity. The difference especially is evident in how congregations of Christians are governed.

One major difference between Baptists and many other denominations is that no person or group outside of a Baptist congregation is to have any authority over the church in regard to beliefs and religious practices. Furthermore, all of the members within the church fellowship are to have equal voice in the governance of the church.

Baptist church governance often is termed “democratic.” In a sense it is. In a democracy, all of the people have equal voices in decision making. No individual or group of persons is in control. Such is to be the case in a Baptist church. One way that democratic governance is practiced is that each member of the church has the right to vote on matters at church business meetings.

To many non-Baptists, and even to some Baptists, this seems to be a strange way for a church to function. Putting the governance of a church in the hands of persons who have no special training, education or calling appears to be foolish. Why would Baptists dare to function in this fashion?

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“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person
—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

Ephesians 5:5 (NIV)

 The ideal of a believers’ church consistently appears in Baptist confessions of faith. Baptist theologians, pastors and other leaders through the centuries have held up no other model than that of a born-again church fellowship. That’s the ideal. But is this the reality?

Is There Evidence of a Decline in Regenerate Church Membership?

The distinguished Baptist historian William R. Estep stated, “Baptists in the United States are perilously close to losing their insistence upon a regenerate church membership.”

Other observers of Baptist life agree with Estep and cite as evidence for this conclusion such factors as the huge number of non-resident Baptist church members and the characteristics of many resident members with their lack of involvement in church life, a low level of financial support, little commitment to evangelism, missions and ministry, and a life style obviously contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

Of course, some of these factors may be the result of conditions other than an unregenerate condition, such as being “backslidden” or perhaps immature as a Christian (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Ephesians 4:11-16). And certainly, numerous church members are wonderfully dedicated followers of Christ. Yet it would seem that these factors would not exist in such abundance if members of churches were truly born again.

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images (2)How Do Baptist Churches Accept Members Into Their Fellowship?

Membership in a Baptist church is always to be voluntary. Therefore, persons request to be members. They are not compelled to be members. Baptist churches strive in several ways to maintain a born-again membership by how they admit persons to membership.

When a person who has never been a member of any church requests membership in a Baptist church, he or she is asked to give evidence of having trusted in Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. Furthermore, Baptist churches require that a person experience believer’s baptism before becoming a member. Therefore, a person seeking membership is asked both to make a profession of faith in Christ and to be baptized.

When a person who is already a member of a Baptist church seeks membership in another Baptist church, normally the person is accepted on the basis of that prior membership. At one time some Baptist churches issued actual “letters” indicating that a person was a member and the person took the “letter” when moving to another church. Today, the term “coming by letter” usually indicates that the church receiving the member will contact the other church about the transfer of membership. The term “coming by statement” normally means that the church of which the person was a member no longer exists or that for a variety of reasons the record could not be obtained.

But what if a person seeking membership in a Baptist church is a member of a church other than Baptist? Baptist churches, being autonomous, respond in various ways. The response depends both on the church background of the person seeking membership as well as on the policies of the church.

Generally speaking, if such a person has not been baptized by immersion as a believer in Christ, a Baptist church will require that he or she indicate faith in Christ and be baptized before becoming a member. If the person has been immersed as a believer, but that baptism was considered necessary for salvation, most Baptist churches will require the person to be baptized before becoming a member; this is done in order to make clear that baptism, while important, is not necessary for salvation.

If the person has been immersed as a believer and understands that it was a way to testify symbolically that he or she had been born again, some Baptist churches will accept such a person into membership. Other Baptist churches will ask the person to be baptized in a Baptist church.

Although a few Baptist churches may accept as members persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior whether or not they have been baptized by immersion as believers, most do not. The vast majority of Baptist churches take very seriously the importance of believer’s baptism by immersion.

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Baptists: Believer’s Baptism

download (1)Baptism Is Only for Believers

The New Testament records that baptism always followed conversion, never preceded it, and was not necessary for salvation (Acts 2:1-41; 8:36-39; 16:30-33). Since Baptists look to the Bible as our sole authority for faith and practice, we believe that baptism is only for those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Furthermore, Baptists point out that in the New Testament a commitment to believe in and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior was always voluntary. Therefore, baptism as a sign of such commitment ought always to be voluntary.

Because of these convictions based on the Bible, Baptists do not baptize infants. This refusal has resulted in persecution. For example, Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard University, was forced not only from his office but banished from Cambridge for refusing to have his infant children baptized in the state-supported church.

Baptism Is Only by Immersion

Although some early Baptists baptized by pouring or sprinkling water over a person, Baptists concluded that immersion of a person’s entire body in water was the only biblical way to baptize. Therefore, in spite of persecution, inconvenience and ridicule, they began to practice baptism only by immersion. Today, that is the Baptist way throughout most of the world.

The belief in immersion as the proper mode of baptism is based on the Bible for several reasons:

– The English word “baptize” comes from a word in the Greek language—the language in which the New Testament originally was written—that means “to dip, submerge, or immerse.”

– John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River by immersion as Jesus began his public ministry (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11).

Christ’s disciples in New Testament times baptized by immersion (Acts 8:36-39).

– Immersion is a means not only of declaring that Christ died, was buried and was resurrected to provide salvation but also of testifying about our own hope of resurrection (Romans 6:5).

– The New Testament teaches that immersion is a way to symbolize that a believer has died to an old way and is alive to walk a new way in Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:11-12).

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The Danger of Sudden Death

pastor_curtis_hutsonNobody knows when he is going to die. You may say, “I don’t like to hear talk about death.” Well, when people quit dying, I will quit talking about death. You don’t like to hear about death because you know you are not right with God. If you want to hear a little, quiet sermonette on Sunday morning, you are in the wrong place.If you say, “I don’t like all this hellfire preaching,” you too are in the wrong place.

Billy Sunday said, “If we had more preaching on Hell from the pulpit, we would have less Hell in the congregation.”

There is more in the Bible about Hell than there is about Heaven. Jesus preached more on Hell than any preacher who has ever lived! He just kept on saying, “You will go to Hell! The worm never dies! The fire is not quenched! It is a real place!” He continually warned men to stay out of Hell.

In this congregation sits a young man. I led him to Christ; I led his wife to Christ; I led his daughter to Christ. I spoke to him about two Sunday mornings ago at the door in the back, and I heard him tell this story.

He was so burdened about his brother, in his twenties, that he took off from work and went to Florida to try to lead him to Christ. He said to his brother, “I’m saved, and I want you to be saved. I want to tell you how to get saved.”

They prayed. As he tried to show his brother how to get saved, his brother laughed at him! “I’m young. I have plenty of time to get saved later on. Leave me alone! I am just in my twenties!”

This man came back to Atlanta brokenhearted because his brother wouldn’t accept Christ.

A week later his brother picked up a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker picked up a revolver and unloaded six shots into him and dumped him out in the desert in Florida.

He was found a few weeks later and brought back here. I conducted his funeral. When I stood over that casket, I could almost hear him say, “Leave me alone! I’m young! I am just in my twenties! I have plenty of time to get saved later on!”

So far as we know, he is now in Hell!

There is the danger of sudden death; you don’t know when you will die.

President Coolidge’s son went out and played tennis. A blister came on his heel, and in a few hours’ time he was dead with blood poison. You don’t know when death may strike you.

Dr. George Truett was saved as a child. When he was a young man, they were having a revival. He invited a school chum to go to the revival with him. The chum went.

George Truett said to him after the preacher had preached, “Now, will you trust Christ as your Saviour?”

The boy said, “Let me alone, George. Leave me alone, George. Not tonight, George. I’ll go tomorrow.”

George said, “Will you come back tomorrow?”

“Yes, I’ll come back tomorrow. But leave me alone tonight, George. Not tonight; tomorrow.”

George Truett said he went back to the meeting the next night, but the young fellow wasn’t there; the fourth night he wasn’t there.

George went to check on him. He knocked on the door. The boy’s mother came to the door, and George said, “Where is So-and-so?”

“He took sick that night after he left the service. He has pneumonia. The doctor says he may not pull through. Nobody has been let in to see him. But you and he were very close friends, George, and I think it is all right for you to see him.”

George Truett said, “I walked in. I saw his lips moving. I wanted to hear what he was saying. He had a very high fever and was almost out of his mind. I leaned my ear over to his mouth to hear what he was saying, and it was, ‘Not tonight, George. Not to-night, George. Leave me alone, George. I will go some other time, but not tonight, George.’”

This young man died and went to Hell!

There is the danger of sudden death.

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“Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9)
“Each believer is a priest, both before God for oneself and by caring for fellow believers and for persons in the world for whom Christ died.” 

From We Baptists, James Leo Garrett Jr. (editor-in-chief)

To say that a Baptist is a priest sounds strange to some persons. But we are. Every one of us. In fact, Baptists insist that all who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior are priests, believer priests. The concept of the priesthood of believers is basic for Baptists. As with some other beliefs important to Baptists, we have varying interpretations of what the concept means, but we all treasure the biblical truth of the priesthood of believers.


Grace/Faith Alone for Salvation

saved_by_grace_through_faithBaptists believe that the Bible teaches that all human beings have chosen to sin, that is, to disobey God. The consequence of sin is eternal death. Persons are not capable of saving themselves from this plight. God, out of love for humankind, has provided salvation (John 3:16).

God’s gift of salvation is available through faith in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. By his life and by his death on the cross, Jesus offers a way from eternal death to eternal life. That way is an expression of God’s grace. The way can be walked only by faith (Romans 5:1-2).

Although the Bible uses different word pictures to describe how Jesus provides salvation for lost humanity, in each case the message is clear: Salvation is available only through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Some denominations have included such things as baptism, church membership, good works or sacraments as necessary for salvation. Baptists have insisted that salvation comes only by faith in God’s grace gift of Jesus.


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“Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.”

Joshua 24:15

Is soul competency the primary Baptist distinctive? Some very outstanding Baptist leaders, past and present, seem to indicate that it may be.

“…the principle of the competency of the soul in religion under

God is a distinctive Baptist contribution to the world’s thought….”

–E. Y. Mullins (b.1860 – d.1928)

Baptist educator/theologian
“Out of this principle flow all other elements of Baptist belief….”

– Herschel H. Hobbs (b.1907 – d.1995)

Baptist pastor/theologian

“The concept of the soul’s competency is more than a single doctrine;

actually, it undergirds all the other doctrines of the faith.”

–H. Leon McBeth (b.1931)

Baptist educator/historian

The Meaning of Soul Competency

What does “soul competency” mean? Various terms have been used for this concept, such as soul freedom, freedom of conscience and soul competency. Basically it means the God-given freedom and ability of persons to know and respond to God’s will. Baptists believe that God gives people competency–that is ability–to make choices. Human beings are not puppets or machines.

Baptists emphasize that this ability is not a mere human characteristic, but a gift from God. In creation, God gave to persons the freedom to make choices. The Genesis account of creation makes crystal clear that this freedom carried with it awesome responsibility. We are responsible for our choices. God sets forth the consequences of good and bad decisions. If we exercise our freedom to obey him, we have life. If we use our freedom to deny him, the result is death (Genesis 1—2).

Read MORE About Baptist Distinctives HERE

images (1)Basically Baptists have considered the Bible as authoritative for faith and practice because of its very nature. Baptists have insisted that the divine nature of the Bible is the basis of its authority. No other writing compares to the Bible. The Bible stands alone among all other writings in that it is uniquely from God and about God.

For much of our history, Baptists have simply accepted the authority of the Bible based on belief in its divine nature. Scriptures were quoted to validate Baptist beliefs and practices without much effort to “prove” the divine nature of the Bible.

However, Baptists and others can point to many evidences of the divine, authoritative nature of the Bible, such as the amazing unity of the Bible in spite of the fact that it was written by a variety of persons over hundreds of years, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies such as in the life and teachings of Jesus, the continuing relevance of the Bible’s message over centuries, the power of its message to transform lives and society, and the repeated claims within the Bible to be the word of God.

For more reading about this topic and about Bible Distinctives…Check it out HERE

lordreturnWhy have Baptists held so strongly to the exclusive Lordship of Christ? We have taken our stand on several basic convictions, including the following:

(1)  The Bible teaches the Lordship of Christ, and Baptists look to the Bible as their sole written authority for faith and practice.

(2)  The biblical teaching about soul competency demands that each individual Christian bow to no ultimate authority other than God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

(3)  The biblical emphasis on soul competency flows from the Lordship of Christ.

(4)  The New Testament model for a church is founded upon the Lordship of Christ; he alone is the head of the church.

Read more about Baptist Distinctive by clicking HERE